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Recent news headlines about the failures of the United States Department of Agriculture reveal the corruption and incompetence of this government agency.

First it was reported that USDA inspectors missed a calf's vertebral column in a shipment of veal to Japan, resulting in the reinstatement of a ban. Meat contaminated with spinal-cord matter presents a greater risk of spreading mad cow disease, the common term for bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Then we learned that the Agriculture Department just pretended to investigate anti-competitive behavior among stockyards and meat companies, but in hundreds of cases hadn't actually filed complaints.

The USDA has been assigned two radically opposing missions. The very same department responsible for developing new and expanded markets for the meat industry is also charged with regulating meat packers, protecting public health, and ensuring the humane treatment of animals. Agribusiness leaders from the private sector have been appointed to administer the USDA's meat inspection program. Instead of wielding their authority to ensure the production of safe meat and require industry compliance with the Humane Slaughter Act, USDA officials have done virtually everything in their power to ensure that slaughter lines keep running undisturbed and postmortem inspections pass.

It is time for the cozy relationship between the USDA and the meat industry to come to an end.

Carol Clothier

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